Written by Andrea Lynn.
Back in mid-October, when the leaves were just tinting yellow and the weather was creeping toward colder breezes, the act of buying a can of pumpkin puree piqued unusual interest from the cashier: “Oh, are you making a pie with that?” she asked excitedly. I had to shake myself from the daze. You see, canned pumpkin is a weekly purchase as a mix-in for my dog’s food, so quotidian for me that I often forget its fall holiday connotation for the rest of the population.
In a stance referred to by others as un-American, I hate pumpkin pie. I’ll take the flaky, buttery crust scraps away from the pumpkin and eat them with the drop of whipped cream. Whether it’s the taste or the quaking consistency, I have nothing but loathing for pumpkin pie. I go out of my way to suggest a number of other pie options for the holidays: coconut cream, cranberry meringue, or pecan. Look at the variety, I say! Why is the rest of the country stuck in a pumpkin rut?
But more than a decade ago, when I was a reporter at a suburban Atlanta newspaper, a profile assigment on a chef and her favorite dessert introduced me to the perfect fall pie: a cross between the old-school Southern staples of sweet potato and pecan praline pies. Making it for that year’s round of winter holidays, it was deemed the ultimate pie option—jazzy enough for a special dinner and less custardy than pumpkin, with the twist of crunchy, sugar-drenched pecans on top.
The following year, I moved to New York City to attend culinary school on the weekends and work as a live-in nanny during the week. I didn’t return South for Thanksgiving, instead absorbing the traditions of the family I lived with. I forgot all about the perfect pie recipe. I lost the recipe and, in a less-digital age, couldn’t find it. The sweet potato-meets-pecan pie memory haunted me. I looked through my old newspaper clips, scoured old email accounts, and typed in any and every Google combination possible that could possibly trigger it. And then, I gave up. It was gone, whooshed into recipes past.
Until I stopped hunting for the recipe and realized I could spend that time recreating the vision—piecing together my memory of the pie while also relying on my recipe developer expertise. Can you guess what will be gracing my holiday table this year for a first time in a decade? It’s not pumpkin. . . .
Praline-Topped Sweet Potato Pie
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Makes one 9-inch pie
For the pie:
- 1 9-inch deep dish pie shell or 1 homemade pie crust cut to fit a 9-inch dish
- 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
- 3/4 cup (5 5/8 oz.) packed light brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons (2 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 tablespoons (2 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons (1 fl. oz.) bourbon
- 1 1/2 cups whole pecans, toasted
For the topping:
Blind-bake the crust:
Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Place the rolled pie crust in the pan and prick a few holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork to create air vents.
Chill the pie crust for 15 minutes, then loosely cover the crust with a layer of foil and fill with a layer of pie weights or dried beans.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the crust is no longer shiny and raw in the center. Gently lift the foil packets with the weights or beans off the crust and cool on a wire rack. (If using beans, remember they’ll no longer be edible after using them to weigh down your pie crust, but once cool, they can be stored in the pantry and used indefinitely as pie weights.)
While the crust blind-bakes, make the filling:
In a heavy-bottomed 3-quart stockpot, add the sweet potato pieces and cover with water by an inch. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes until the sweet potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.
Drain the potatoes well in a colander and transfer to the bowl of a food processor. Add the brown sugar, butter, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and vanilla extract. Whirl the ingredients in the food processor just until combined, about 1 minute.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F.
Pour the filling into the prepared pie shell. Bake for about 45 minutes until the filling is set and no longer wobbly in the center. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature on a wire rack.
Make the praline topping:
Melt the butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat.
Toss the butter and maple syrup with the pecans in a large bowl, then spread the praline over the cooled sweet potato pie with a silicone spatula.
Refrigerate the pie until the topping firms up, then slice and serve.
Andrea Lynn is a Queens-based cookbook author and recipe developer with Southern roots and a boiled peanut addition. Her dog would devour an entire pumpkin pie if left to her own means.